SA needs to find way to breed acceptance
THE recently unveiled Coalition Agreement between the seven parties that constitute government has been a welcome development to most Basotho. If followed to its letter and spirit, its tenets promise a period of political stability and peace following Lesotho’s tumultuous first coalition government.
However, another area of contention looming in the background is the possible reinstatement of Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli to the helm of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
In a recent interview with this newspaper, Defence and National Security minister Tšeliso Mokhosi said his priority was to ensure Lesotho becomes a stable country once again through instilling professionalism and discipline within the LDF and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).
He vowed to bring to an end the incessant power-struggles between the two agencies which brought this country on the brink of civil war. Curiously, Mr Mokhosi also declared that the relevant stakeholders would look into Lt Gen Kamoli’s issue “from a legal perspective” so as to reinstate him.
One wonders if Mr Mokhosi’s objective to bring peace would be achievable if the reinstatement is followed through. There remains some antagonism between members of the two agencies following the predawn raid of three key Maseru police stations on 30 August 2014 and the ensuing death of Sub-inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko.
Former LMPS Assistant Commissioner Masupha Masupha remarked last November that some officers were still traumatised by the raid and viewed their LDF colleagues with suspicion.
This is over and above the scuffles between members of the two agencies last year which rendered some villages in Maseru virtual war zones. At the peak of the conflict, members of the two agencies would even attack each other while walking in the streets.
While the government reserves the right to hire and fire at their own bidding, there is no denying that reinstating Lt Gen Kamoli would be a controversial move on their part especially given the warning made by the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Basotho National Party (BNP) that they would not would not “stand by and watch”.
Given the opposition’s considerable clout in the National Assembly, they could very well throw spanners in the coalition government’s works, rendering the country ungovernable. The reappointment would risk throwing away any remaining goodwill between the government and opposition with brinkmanship becoming the order of the day.
Since some of the coalition partners have stated that Lt Gen Kamoli’s issue is yet to be discussed and finalised, we can only hope due diligence will be applied in the inevitable consultation to ensure this nation finally moves on.
Far from another political stalemate between government and the opposition, Basotho want to see the expeditious improvement of their material conditions.
Indeed, the nation awaits to see the fruition of the coalition government’s stated objectives to grow the economy through institutional reforms, effective use of natural resources and infrastructure development.
The Coalition Agreement also states that the plight of the poor and those living in villages would be the first priority of the government.
However, as clearly shown by the gridlock which characterised government operations last year, the coalition cannot attain its developmental objectives without the tacit cooperation of the opposition block.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili already has enough on his plate guiding a seven-party coalition and restoring Lesotho to “its former glory”, as he promised during the campaign period, than to be saddled by renewed instability in the security sector.
The government is also faced with a four-month Lesotho Correctional Services go-slow with the warders telling our sister paper, Sunday Express, they would intensify their industrial action until their grievances are addressed.
Ultimately, no one appointment is worth the furore that is bound to ensue if Lt Gen Kamoli comes back to the LDF. IT is an indelible memory, stored amongst the catalogues of recollections of a journalist out in the field: A biting cold Highveld morning, the air thick with the smell of mbaula drum fires and the mist hanging low on the East Rand mine dumps.
What burns brightest in that image filed forever in my memory is the sight of three semi-naked bodies sprawled in a mielie field next to a hostel, their heads cleaved open.
One, vaguely discernable as a woman, lay face down with her jeans pulled below her buttocks and her shirt crumpled up, the dirt alongside her wet with ruby red blood.
Less than a metre away, an emergency service official worked to set up a drip on an apparently lifeless man, while a police officer with a shotgun slung across his back held the bag up with a raised arm. Who knows how long they had been there, waiting to die?
It was the nadir of the wave of xenophobic violence that rolled through South Africa in 2008 and I had been stationed in the Ramaphosa township, a hotbed of attacks.
Just days before this incident, photographers there had captured the gutwrenching image of Mozambican Ernesto Nhamuave being burnt alive and the picture would become the portrait of that shameful time in South Africa’s history.
During the week I spent reporting on the violence, along with a battalion of local and foreign journalists, we witnessed scenes that were etched into our collective memories.
We stumbled upon foreigners in shacks, clinging to life after being attacked, and carried them on mattresses to waiting paramedics on the outskirts of the township.
We saw livelihoods destroyed as containers housing spaza shops went up in flames or were sent rolling down potholed roads like soccer balls.
We interviewed impassioned young men clutching axes, sticks and pangas and listened as they explained why they were chasing the makwerekwere (a derogatory term for foreigners) away from their neighbourhoods.
In impromptu ‘ refugee camps’ set up in police stations, churches and fields, we watched mothers comfort children, trying to explain to them why they had been forced to flee their homes, having already spent lifetimes fleeing war and uncertainty in the hope of new beginnings.
It took long, far too long, for government to act in 2008. But finally President Thabo Mbeki spoke, offering remorse and an apology “with heads bowed in shame be- cause it has seemed that what happened in our country in May betrayed the dreams of many generations, including our own”.
The army was deployed and the violence quelled. There were excuses of a ‘criminal element’ being responsible, suggestions that the violence was instigated by a ‘third hand’ with a political agenda and that there were financial incentives.
There were academic studies and investigations by non-governmental organisations, task teams were set up and recommendations were made.
Then South Africa put the xenophobic attacks in a box, put on the lid, and moved on.
But the problem has been bubbling on, percolating in townships and informal settlements across the country and we would be fools to think otherwise.
This is evident from the isolated incidents reported in the media of Somali shopkeepers being stoned to death and of their shops being looted by angry mobs as ineffective police officers stood by idly.
The true extent of the personal fear and terror is best illustrated in Jonny Steinberg’s A Man of Good Hope, a revealing account of Somali shopkeeper Asad Abdullahi.
It feels as though it has been Abdullahi’s face staring at me each time this week that TV news inserts have shown Somali shopkeepers in Kwazulu-natal desperately trying to rescue their produce from rampaging mobs.
This week the simmering has boiled over yet again. Foreign-owned shops have been targeted, at least five people have been killed, families have been chased from their homes and cars have been set alight.
The politicians have rolled in, condemning the violence. They’ve debated over semantics and whether it is technically ‘xenophobia’ or rather ‘Afrophobia’. Criminal elements have again been blamed.
A peace march has even been planned. They are hoping to contain the situation within Kwazulu-natal in the hope that it does not spread.
But we know that it takes just one spark to light the tinderbox, particularly if it has been left to simmer for far too long.
It doesn’t help for politicians to step up only when tensions are high and there is pressure. They should have been providing leadership within communities over the past seven years, working to change the social constructs and reshaping opinions on foreigners.
We need to find a way to breed acceptance and co-operation within our communities and to quell the resentment and jealousy. If we don’t, the situation will continue to boil over time and time again.
We have more than enough indelible images of violent attacks on foreigners filed away in our memory banks. I know I do. And I don’t want to see any more.
Wiener is a freelance journalist.